- Cosa Nostra boss captured after 30 years
- Detained in a private hospital in Palermo
- Convicted of his involvement in the murder of anti-mafia prosecutors
PALERMO, Italy, Jan 16 (Reuters) – Italy’s most wanted mob boss, Matteo Messina Denaro, was arrested by armed police at a private hospital in Sicily on Monday, where the man, who had been on the run since 1993, was being treated for cancer .
Nicknamed “The Devil” and “U Siccu” (The Skinny), Messina Denaro was sentenced in absentia to life in prison for his role in the 1992 murders of anti-mafia prosecutors Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino, crimes that shocked the nation and sparked a crackdown on Cosa Nostra.
Messina Denaro, 60, was taken from La Maddalena Hospital in Palermo by two uniformed police officers and put into a waiting black minivan. He wore a brown leather-lined jacket, glasses, and a brown and white wool hat.
Forensic sources said he was being treated for cancer and underwent surgery last year, followed by a series of appointments under a false name.
“We had a lead from the investigation and followed it to today’s arrest,” Palermo prosecutor Maurizio de Lucia said.
Magistrate Paolo Guido, who was also in charge of Messina Denaro’s investigations, said dismantling his network of defenders was key to achieving a result after years of work.
A second man who drove Messina Denaro to the hospital was arrested at the scene on suspicion of assisting a fugitive.
Images on social media showed locals cheering and shaking hands with police in balaclavas as the minivan carrying Messina Denaro was driven from the suburban hospital to an undisclosed location.
Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni traveled to Sicily to congratulate police chiefs after the arrest.
“We haven’t won the war, we haven’t defeated the Mafia, but this battle was a key battle to win and it’s a major blow to organized crime,” she said.
Maria Falcone, the sister of the slain judge, echoed this sentiment.
“This proves that mobsters, despite their delusions of omnipotence, are ultimately doomed to defeat in the conflict with the democratic state,” she said.
FAST CARS, WALKING CLOTHES
Messina Denaro comes from the town of Castelvetrano near Trapani in western Sicily and is the son of a mafia boss.
Last September, police said he was still able to issue orders related to how the mafia was run in the area around Trapani, his regional stronghold.
Before he went into hiding, he was known for driving expensive cars and for his taste in finely tailored suits and Rolex watches.
He is facing a life sentence for his role in bomb attacks in Florence, Rome and Milan that killed 10 people in 1993 and is accused by prosecutors of being wholly or jointly responsible for numerous other murders in the 1990s.
In 1993, he helped arrange the kidnapping of a 12-year-old boy, Giuseppe Di Matteo, in an attempt to dissuade his father from testifying against the Mafia, prosecutors said. The boy was held captive for two years before being strangled and his body dissolved in acid.
The arrest comes almost 30 years to the day since police arrested Salvatore “Toto” Riina, the most powerful Sicilian mob boss of the 20th century. He eventually died in prison in 2017, never having broken his code of silence.
“This is an extraordinary event of historical importance,” said Gian Carlo Caselli, who was a prosecutor in Palermo at the time of Riina’s arrest.
Despite the euphoria, Italy still faces a struggle to contain organized crime groups whose tentacles stretch far and wide.
Experts claim that Cosa Nostra has been usurped by The ‘Ndrangheta, the Calabrian Mafiaas the most powerful organized crime group in Italy.
“There’s a sense that the Sicilian Mafia is not as strong as it used to be, especially since the 1990s, they’ve really failed to break into the drug market and so they’re really second fiddle to the ‘Ndrangheta in that regard.” , said Federico Varese, professor of criminology at Oxford University.
additional reporting by Angelo Amante and Alvise Armellini Writing by Keith Weir and Cristina Carlevaro Editing by Gavin Jones, Nick McPhee and Alex Richardson
Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.
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